Davis Guggenheim, who joined Al Gore in his fight against global warming with the Oscar-winning "An Inconvenient Truth" and championed education with "Waiting for Superman," is now taking social action documentaries to a new level with "He Named Me Malala."
The movie is a father-daughter documentary that jumps between teenager Malala, who celebrates her 16th birthday in Birmingham, England in the film–something the Taliban in her Pakistan village sought to prevent when they shot the 11-year-old in the head, rendering her comatose until doctors brought her back to consciousness–and the story of a shared outspoken activism about education for all, especially women.
Her father Ziaauddin Yousafzai attended Telluride and participated in a press conference with Guggenheim moderated by Ken Burns, who eventually connected via live stream to Malala in Birmingham. See video below.
Producers Walter Parkes and Laurie MacDonald acquired the rights to Malala’s story and her book "I Am Malala" but after meeting her in person, decided no one else could play her and that her story had to be a documentary. For the movie backed by Image Nation of Abu Dabi and Participant Media, Guggenheim started off by recording several hours of audio interviews with Malala and her father, which serves as their narration of many stories from the past illustrated by gifted animator Jason Carpenter. "There is not a country that will not have this movie," declared Guggenheim before the screening, as Fox Searchlight and NatGeo will make it seen around the world. Toronto beckons. As well as a documentary Oscar campaign.
The Telluride audience ate up this sincere and heartwarming drama, which underscores Guggenheim’s theme: that speaking out even in the face of death is the right thing to do. Identity is key to this. The father named his daughter after a teenage heroine of Afghanistan who spoke out against war and rode into battle where she was killed. "It’s better to live like a human for one day than to live like a slave for 100 years," she cried.
But while Malala has been criticized for following her father’s bidding, she insists –while doing tons of homework, teasing her bratty brothers, and beefing up her English vocabulary for all her speaking engagements on the likes of Jon Stewart and GMA and advice to chiefs of state from Obama to Cameron–that she is her own self. "I am the same Malala," she says, and her father agrees. He actually added her name to his all-male family tree, when she was born. "I have been given a new life," Malala says, "and it is sacred."